Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Different Angle

Have you ever had one of those days that had you scratching your head nearly constantly?  You know what I mean.  One of those days where it seems like everything you see makes you want to just close the curtains, lock the door, and forget that you're part of this spinning orb...even just for a little bit?  It's not been anything earth shattering, but I've been told that I can't post anything on social media tonight, so I'm going to write for a few.  If you need a distraction because life is treating you like a repeat root canal, or you just can't figure out...well, never mind.  If you want to keep reading, come with me and see where this goes.  If you don't, Big Bang is on TV and it's a great episode right now.  I'll still love ya.

So, here it goes.  It's no secret that I'm a pastor, and have been for over 17 years.  It's also no secret that I'm a non-traditionalist.  Honestly, I have no clue where that came from.  My mom and dad raised me right.  I was born into a very traditional, very rural, very conservative, wonderful little church.  I loved those folks and they loved me like one of their own.  We had a slight falling out during my teen years and I moved on to become part of another congregation.  Then, years later, I was actually sent by my Bishop back to that little country, conservative, traditional, rural church...of which I had been born into years before...to serve as their pastor.  It was great.  I could not have asked for a better place to spend my first year in ministry.  That being said, I honestly have no clue why I am the way that I am.

I am a non-traditionalist.  That doesn't mean that I don't value tradition.  I do very much.  It was what formed me in the faith during my growing up years.  It's just that I think I've gotten to a place in my life where I don't idolize tradition like I once did. Now, I think that I just view things from a different angle.  Honestly, sometimes that makes me feel somewhat the freak.  Bear with me for a few and I'll explain.

I don't accept everything at face value anymore.  Before seminary all of my training and education were in the sciences.  My Bachelor degree is in biology.  I spent most of my college career in the streams, forests, and fields of Western Kentucky, catching insects, fish, and reptiles, and classifying plants.  I think that caused me to go into my theological education with a desire to know the where, why, how, and when.  So, as a pastor, I've tried to carry that into my conversations, leadership style, and preaching.

I'm also not a very deep thinker.  Systematic theology?  I stink at it.  Jesus said, "Love God with everything you have, and love others the way you love you."  That I can wrap my head around.  Paul's eschatology, or his resurrection theology, are a little more of a struggle for me.

Now, that being said...I also feel like I may be in the minority.  Because of that I feel like the kid that no one wants to play with sometimes.  Not that it's completely a bad thing...it's just a struggle sometimes.  It's wonderfully freeing for me, because I feel like I am finally at a place in my life where I understand a little of what's going on inside my head.  Yet, at the same time, it can be terribly frustrating.

As a pastor, my job is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, who then go out and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  But part of my job is to also lead the church to which I am appointed.  Part of leading the church to which I am appointed involves trying to figure out ways to bring the gospel to a hurting world, and maybe, if I'm lucky, see folks start coming to worship.  Granted, that is a by-product, and not the goal, but still.  It kind of is.

The struggle is this: church signs and social media.  Sometimes they make my job next to impossible because folks see things on church signs, or posted on social media, and think "If that's what the Church is like, I don't want any part of it."  What I'm trying to do is show folks that it really has nothing to do with the church as an institution, but about how different their life can be once they say "Yes" to a relationship with the God of all creation.

Today, true story...I saw a church sign that said, "He was born.  He died.  He rose.  Your turn."


Now, as a theologian, I think I understand what they were trying to say.  Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth.  Good Friday is when we recognize the cost of our salvation. Easter is when we celebrate the fact that death does not get the last word.  I get that.  "Your turn," is an invitation to make a decision on living a new life because of what Christ did on the cross.  I understand.  Honest.  But...a four line church sign saying that, where folks are going to see it at 55 mph, scratch their head and move on...really isn't helpful.  "Your turn..."  Wait, it's my turn to be born, die, and rise again?  What?

And then social media.  Help us, sweet Jesus.  It absolutely breaks my heart to hear about the total devastation that happened this weekend in Eastern Tennessee.  Such loss of natural beauty, not to mention the loss of wildlife, and the cost to rebuild.  Forest fires wipe out everything in their path.  So do tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, straight line winds, earthquakes, and the list goes on.  They are destructive on a level that most folks can't even comprehend unless you have been affected by them.  I can't imagine, personally.  What they aren't however...they're not necessarily of God.  For the souls whose lives are lost in any natural disaster, God's heart breaks.  I believe that.  What I can't believe is that God would take a life, be it human or lower animal, and use that to convince folk to "Get ready," if you know what I mean.  The wildfires that just destroyed a huge chunk of the Smoky Mountains, and this is just a guess, were probably caused by some idiot with a match, and fueled by 80 mph wind gusts.  They were not a sign of the end times, nor were they a judgement on humanity.  But that's just Jamie.  

Since this was titled "A different angle," I feel that I now have to present one.  One line church sign sermons are never a good idea because so often they are scriptures posted that are taken completely out of context, or worst case, they're just cheesy.  Folks see through that, and will probably be even less likely to give your worshipping congregation a shot.  If you have a sign and need to post something, try this, "Come and see."  It's the invitation Jesus gave two of the would be disciples, and because of those three words, two men went on to help turn the world upside down.

Social media...just because you can post it doesn't mean you should.  I will defend to the death your right to believe anything you want to believe, but promise me you'll do some biblical interpretation...no, biblical exegesis...before you post something relating scripture to natural disasters.  To do solid biblical exegesis, go to a commentary, see what was going on when that text was written...look for who it was written to...see if you can figure out why the author wrote it down in the first place.  The families of those who lose their lives in any natural disaster, or who have seen their worlds completely destroyed by the same, do not need to know that you think God was using this to get people's attention, and hopefully get them to "turn so they don't burn."

Now, why did I do this?  Not because I'm a jerk.  I may be, but that's not why I did this.  I wrote this because I'm frustrated.  I've given my life to a call to ministry and making a difference in the world.  I've seen the damage that churches can do in the lives of folks who feel that they are different.  I want people to think for themselves about who they are as children of the Almighty, and what that might meant for the way they live their lives, instead of just swallowing what is spoon fed to them.  I've seen the systems that keep folks from becoming part of a worshipping body, and want to do all I can to bring them down.  Why?  Because people, and the souls of those same people, are too important.  Feeling like you have no place to belong is devastating.  Being made to feel guilty, or less than, because you think differently is wrong.

As I've been working on this Sunday's message the last two days, one of the things that keeps coming to mind is that Jesus keeps showing up, unexpected, to the folks who feel like they are the most unworthy, but who need him the most.  Many times, it's those of us who are already on the inside, who...with good intentions, no doubt...prevent that from happening.

So, I guess this is a shout out to my fellow "outside the box" kind of folk.  Not all of us church folk are like what you see on church signs or posting on social media.  Most of us are trying to figure all of this out just like you are.  Most of us know that we are sinners in need of grace.  Many of us crave the freedom to think for ourselves but don't feel safe doing so.  We want to dig into these ancient, beautiful stories and see what they said to the people who heard them first, and what they can say to us all of these years later.  A lot of us cringe when we see things on church signs or posted on social media because we understand how it's going to make you feel.  And probably all of us ask that you don't judge us on the actions of a few.

If that's you, hit me up.  I'd love to sit down and talk with you.  I promise that I won't push a churchy agenda.  I will not judge you for the metal in your face or the color you dyed your hair.  We'll compare tattoos if you want.  I just want the opportunity to tell you about this guy who finally convinced me that I'm not the sum total of my past mistakes.  That's a church sign quote I could get behind.

Ok, rant is over.  Just don't get me started on neck ties.